Opinion: As Amazon cuts hazard pay, why is Jeff Bezos making billions?

Photo By Fibonacci Blue (licensed under CC-BY-2.0)

As American citizens, every day we are faced with new challenges and opportunities. Lately, there have been more challenges than opportunities. There is no making sense of the socioeconomic ladder that has defined class in this country. Still, we can try to parse the enormity of power that follows Jeff Bezos’ name wherever he walks.

Amazon has decided to revoke its hazard pay to workers, a mere two-months after it was introduced alongside increases to overtime pay. Many workers are upset that the hazard pay has been cut unexpectedly short. Business Insider reported that Amazon issued “thank you” t-shirts as a gesture of gratitude. The pandemic is far from over, but Amazon’s Board of Directors has decided that the most profitable path forward will not include erroneous hazard pay.

This is no departure from the norm at Amazon. The business has witnessed a meteoric rise to power. These gains are not unwarranted, either, as Amazon strives to deliver a seamless service to consumers at a low overhead. This wanton ease-of-access is what makes Amazon a deadly competitor in the many markets it now finds itself. There are elements to their business model, which seem nothing less than monopolistic. Their ability to compete through wholesale and distribution, or brick-and-mortar locations, or technological services, is what puts Amazon far beyond the top of the heap. Amazon seems less interested in running their own business and more interested in creating new businesses.

Who is responsible for this industry titan? A man called Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of a corporation with $1 trillion in estimated market capitalization. We are all familiar with the capitalist exploits of the renowned business leader. To that end, researchers now realize that the world’s wealthiest man is profiting at an inordinate rate. One research group has found that Jeff Bezos may become the world’s first trillionaire as early as 2026. In close-pursuit are business leaders from the likes of Apple, Google and Microsoft, among others.

With each passing week, it becomes increasingly apparent that the liberal capitalist structure cannot support its weight. Not only are Amazon workers being squeezed for their every ounce of labor at the most cost-effective ratio, but local inhabitants cannot keep up with the rising cost of living in Seattle. As the pandemic rages on, so too does the economic turmoil faced by lower-class Americans. How does one self-quarantine without shelter?

Of course, the quick-fix to these market failures would be a return to business-as-usual. Just reopen the economy! However, if the gears of industry spin again, workers will have no more to gain than before. This is why Amazon is mistaken if they think that pay-cuts will bolster their business model. Shareholders want to see quarterly profits rising, not falling. Although, workers have little stake in those shares. A study conducted in 2016 by NYU economist Edward Wolff concluded that the wealthiest 10% own 84% of all stocks. This is but one example of wealth inequality in our country, a crisis that goes largely unmentioned by corporate media conglomerates.

Jeff Bezos lacks a sufficient amount of time to consider how he will spend his money. He has too much money to spend his time thoroughly. What does the world’s wealthiest man do to give back to society? Employ the jobless? Absolutely! So long as those new hires do not defy the corporate interest of their boss. Individuals with so much influence, like Bezos, are unlikely to give it up voluntarily. Garnering a fair share of tax revenue off Bezos and Amazon does not begin to correct the underlying imbalances. People need their political power back, not money. As Forbes reported in February of last year, Amazon pays little to nothing in federal taxes due to its complex string of subsidies, tax credits and other incentives that are supposed to entice employers. The problem is, Amazon’s reinvestment of their profits into the business, paired with their employee stock option program, creates a low overhead for tax revenue. As different cities fight over big business, tycoons like Bezos wield unlimited bargaining power as they maneuver between global markets.

In short, Amazon wants to be in Seattle because that’s where the skilled workers live. No amount of state leverage can keep them here for long until another opportunity arises, certainly not at the expense of taxpayers. All we can do is organize and collectivize against a man who, soon enough, will have too many zeros behind his net worth. Whether billionaires should exist is a conversation of the distant past. So long as Bezos is influencing local elections, working people must consolidate around the shared interests of society. We are stepping into a new realm forged by trillionaires and their empires.